Jennifer Schweitzer: Tryon Elementary’s Teacher of the Year

Published 10:00 pm Friday, January 16, 2015

FEATURE Jennifer SchweitzerWeb

Developing confident learners through cookies, Chromebooks, creativity
By Mark Schmerling

Jennifer Schweitzer is already making a mark at Tryon Elementary School. In just her third year of teaching there, Schweitzer was honored as the school’s Teacher of the Year for the current school year.

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“It’s an honor,” said Schweitzer, a third-grade teacher. “I think very highly of all the teachers here.”

Schweitzer and her husband, Brandon Schweitzer, assistant principal at Polk County High School, moved here from their native Hendersonville, after Jennifer taught kindergarten for six years at Springmore Elementary School in Shelby.

When she began teaching at Tryon Elementary, she said she was “blown away by the professionalism, and the level of instruction that the kids receive.”

Schweitzer’s own philosophy is to learn what motivates each student, and then implement the most effective method to teach that student.

“I really try to hold high expectations for students, and try to build their self confidence.”

In her quest, Schweitzer has at least two great role models, her mother and her own third grade teacher. Her mother was a teacher, retiring in 2011.

Schweitzer, who had difficulty learning to read as a youngster, was fortunate because her third grade teacher, Mrs. Conley, “taught in a way that I understood,” said Schweitzer.

“That really motivated me. She was a great influence.”

By developing positive relationships with all of her students, you learn what works best for them, she said.  According to Schweitzer, every workshop in which she’s participated teaches that if educators develop a good relationship with all students, “eventually everything will work out.”

Schweitzer employs hands-on, visual and spatial learning concepts to best suit particular students. For example, she noted, one of her students loves football, so Schweitzer employs football terminology to cultivate his interest and his focus.

“I believe that’s the way to get the best you can, and the most you can, from each student,” she relates.

Schweitzer’s students have several projects during the school year. One is “Book Commercials,” for which each student writes a book, researches potential presentations, and makes a presentation of it, without giving away the ending.

Students learn fractions by various methods, including hands-on instruction through the use of Legos and blocks. Another method, which rivets students’ interest, is a “cookie cake.” Using a pizza cutter, Schweitzer removes various sized slices of this cookie that is the size of a cake, to demonstrate the concept of fractions. Thus, the subject of food is part of learning.

Because many kids are kinesthetic, they learn best by handling educational material, says Schweitzer. Hands-on, tactile, experiences are especially valuable for some students.

In addition, she said, “We always try to integrate whatever we’re reading into other subjects, including science and social studies.”

Reading is wound through much of the curriculum.

“Of course, we do all sorts of reading,” Schweitzer pointed out. That includes preparing and reading journals, each based on particular prompts that Schweitzer suggests to her students. Each day, her students do a good deal of writing.

For conducting research, Schweitzer tells her students that they must use both the internet, and traditional books from the library. Her 22 students are fortunate to have the use of small computers for much of their research.

“They enjoy it,” Schweitzer said. “They love making presentations, putting it all together. I think it prepares them for the future.”

Of course, Schweitzer becomes attached to her students, and follows their progress as they move on to higher grade levels.

Schweitzer is doing what she loves, in a pleasing environment.

“I always wanted to be a teacher,” she remarked. She’s particularly glad to be in Tryon and in Polk County.  “It’s a really wonderful place to work in, this community,” she said. “We’ve fallen in love with this area. It’s where we want our daughter (now three and a half) to grow up.”